Friday, April 07, 2006

'Moderate' Kadima Party Biggest Winner in Israeli Parliamentary Elections

In the midst of severe criticism from his Likud Party compatriots last summer when he ordered the forcible removal of 7,500 radical Israeli Jewish settlers from the occupied Gaza Strip, now-comatose Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon broke away and formed the new Kadima Party. Several Likud heavyweights, including Sharon’s chief aide Ehud Olmert [right], the former mayor of Jerusalem, left with him in order to facilitate the unilateral withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlers from parts of the occupied Palestinian West Bank, which they believe will result in a kind of forced final status “peace.”

After Sharon, 78, the architect of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the subsequent siege and destruction of large sections of Beirut, suffered a massive stroke on January 4 and subsequently lapsed into a coma, Olmert was named acting prime minister. According to an April 9 report in the centrist Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz, Sharon will be declared permanently incapacitated on Tuesday, April 11, paving the way for Olmert to emerge as Kadima’s full, official leader.

Without the decorated military record of his predecessor and mentor Sharon [right], Olmert has nonetheless managed to keep the fledgling political party together over the past four months, even leading them to victory in the March 29 parliamentary elections. Picking up 29 seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, Kadima now has to enter into negotiations with other parties to form a coalition government. The hope of the Kadima leadership is to implement its plan for unilateral withdrawal of parts of the West Bank, the completion of the controversial Israeli separation wall between Israel and West Banks lands that Israel wishes to retain and the rest of the occupied Palestinian Territories, and the establishment of “permanent” borders by 2010.

Voter turnout set a new record low, with only 62.3% of eligible Israelis participating. These numbers seem to suggest that the general Israeli populace is unhappy with the options presented by all of the country’s major political movements: Kadima’s forced borders policy; the Labor Party’s negotiation tract; and the rightwing Likud Party’s maintain the occupation without acknowledging political and population realities.

In the end, the Labor ticket was the election’s second-biggest winner, picking up 19 seats, followed by the Sephardic religious party Shas, which won 12 seats, and the Russian immigrant party Israel Beitenu, which won 11 seats. Likud, now led by former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, won only 12 seats, less than what most analysts predicted.

Ultra-religious and radical religious settler parties, such as United Torah Judaism and the National Religious Party, picked up a combined 15 seats. Israeli Arab parties, whose support bases are centered in the Galilee region and the city of Haifa, won 10 seats. Shinui, the left-of-center political party which scored a significant number of seats in 2003, failed to win enough votes to provide it Knesset seats.

For more information on the Israeli election results, see:

Immediately following the election, most Middle East analysts agree that Olmert was most likely to seek a coalition agreement with the center-left Labor Party. Although the two parties do not agree on the best way to achieve peace with the Palestinians, they are closer in terms of ideology than Kadima and its other possible partners, which include the religious parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.

For more information on the stances of Israel’s political parties on the major political issues, see:

Palestinian political reaction to Kadima’s win has been unenthusiastic. When asked about what Olmert’s plan for unilateral withdrawal would mean for Israeli-Palestinian relations, independent Palestinian political leader Mustafa Barghouti, said, “It would mean a continuation of occupation and a continuation of conflict and that would be as bad for the Israelis as for us.”

Khaled Meshaal [left], the Damascus-based political leader of HAMAS, the Palestinian militant organization and political party which now dominates the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), was even more frank in his assessment: “The Zionist [Israeli] position, be it that of Kadima or others, is one that buries the peace process, negates its existence and does not give it a chance. That position is a declaration of war against the Palestinian people.”

The radical Jewish settler movement, represented officially by the Yesha Council of Settlements, with segments of the settler population subscribing to the outlawed terrorist ideology of the Kach and Kahane Chai movements, which call for the forcible expulsion of all Arabs from Israel and the Palestinian Territories and the reformation of Biblical Israel, is also wary of Kadima. Settlers and their leaders fear that they will be required to leave settlement blocs, such as Ariel, in the heart of the West Bank, dissipating forever their goal of re-establishing the kingdom that Israel once held in ancient times, termed Eretz Yisrael.

After the completion of vote counting, Israeli President Moshe Katsav called on Olmert to form a new government. On April 4, it was announced that Kadima would indeed seek to form a coalition government with Labor. At a joint press conference with Labor leader Amir Peretz, Olmert said, “We are glad to announce that, after President Moshe Katsav appoints me to form a government, we will start coalition talks to create a government in which Labor will be a senior partner.”

Peretz [right] was also optimistic about the chances of a Kadima-Labor coalition: “[We have] found a way to negotiate directly to form a government in the quickest way possible. A government led by Kadima and its chairman Ehud Olmert will be stable and able to hold the full-year term and set short and long-term goals.”

Although it may result in a temporary lull in the conflict, Kadima's plan for unilateral withdrawal, which Olmert is prepared to do without negotiating with PNA President Mahmoud Abbas, will not bring a permanent peace. The failure of Kadima and the HAMAS-led PNA to enter into negotiations with one another will only continue the conflict, leaving both the Israelis and Palestinians with little hope in terms of economic and social growth and prosperity.

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